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National Signing Day: The five most surprising classes

Graham Watson
Dr. Saturday

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(USA Today Sports Images)

With National Signing Day less than 24 hours away, several schools are jockeying to find rare gems to try to make their classes the best they can possibly be.

But some schools have already exceeded expectations in terms of the national prominence of their class. Sure, there’s Alabama, Florida and Ohio State all vying for the nation’s best class, but teams such as Ole Miss and Texas A&M are giving the stalwarts a run for their money.

Here’s a look at Dr. Saturday’s most surprising classes with a little help from Rivals.com recruiting analyst Mike Farrell.

Ole Miss: Hands down the biggest surprise team of recruiting season has to be Ole Miss. The Rebels currently ranked No. 11 in Rivals recruiting rankings and could finish with the nation’s top class if it nails down commitments from the nation’s top recruit Robert Nkemdiche and Chris Jones, the nation’s No. 2-ranked defensive end and the top prospect in the state of Mississippi. Both players will announce their decision on Wednesday.

[Related: Top football recruit with massive Auburn tattoo re-commits to Alabama]

What a turnaround for Ole Miss, which had the No. 40 class a year ago and has never finished with a class better than No. 15 (2006). It’s not the Rebels’ 7-6 record – they’ve had more wins than that three other times since recruiting rankings began in 2002 – it’s coach Hugh Freeze, who many recruits point to as the selling point of the program. Jones said Freeze is so eloquent and persuasive in his sales pitch that he could be a preacher if he ever found himself out of coaching.

In terms of teams poised to finish in the top 10 in recruiting, no other team has had a bigger single-season turnaround than Ole Miss.

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(AP)

Texas A&M: Most coaches would tell you a Cotton Bowl win and a Heisman Trophy wouldn’t pay dividends until the year after all the accolades, but Texas A&M is bucking that trend. Coach Kevin Sumlin has people excited about Texas A&M football again and currently has the Aggies ranked No. 7 in Rivals recruiting rankings. That’s the highest-ever ranking for Texas A&M since rankings began in 2002 and only the second time since the rankings began that A&M has a class in the top 10 (No. 8 in 2005).

Can you blame people for being excited about A&M football?

The Aggies were supposed to struggle in their first year in the SEC with a new coaching staff, new quarterback and new system, but instead thrived with an 11-2 finish that culminated with a thumping of Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.

The most surprising thing about A&M’s class is that there are no five-star recruits. It has 15 four-star recruits and 16 three-star’s. Considering quarterback Johnny Manziel, college football’s first freshman Heisman Trophy winner, was a three-star, A&M seems to know what it’s doing.

And for those looking for a rivalry angle, A&M’s class is ahead of Texas (No. 20) for the first time since 2005.

UCLA: For so many years, UCLA has lived in the shadow of USC in terms of recruiting, but not this year. The Bruins are in the process of raking in the nation’s No. 9 class, which would be only the third top 10 class since rankings began and first since 2010.

More importantly, UCLA is nipping at USC’s heels and trying to overtake the Trojans for the first time since 2002. USC is currently ranked No. 8 in Rivals rankings.

UCLA definitely got fans and recruits excited this season with a 9-5 campaign, the Bruins’ best record since going 10-2 in 2005. Coach Jim Mora can sell the NFL angle since he has ties to the league and beating rival USC for the first time since 2006 is also a selling point when recruiting head-to-head with the Trojans.

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(USA Today Sports Images)

Washington: In the past, the hierarchy for recruiting in the Pac-12 has featured teams such as USC, Oregon and even Stanford. Washington has always been on the outside looking in.

But not this year.

The Huskies are currently No. 15 in the overall Rivals rankings and parked right behind USC and UCLA in the Pac-12 rankings. It’s Washington’s highest national ranking and Pac-12 ranking ever.

So what’s the change?

Washington has finally entrenched itself in California and is battling USC and UCLA for recruits there. The Huskies have 13 recruits from California in this class and six of those players are four-star recruits. The Huskies are also making inroads in Texas with two recruits fro the Lone Star State, including four-star defensive end Daeshon Hall.

Vanderbilt: Coach James Franklin is known for his passion and enthusiasm on the field and apparently that’s transferring off the field as well.

Vandy jumped into the top 50 for the first time ever last year with the No. 29-ranked class and this year, the Commodores are poised to have the nation’s No. 19 class.

A lot of that can be attributed to Vanderbilt’s play on the field. Since Franklin took over, the Commodores are 15-11, have been to two consecutive bowls for the first time in school history and this year’s 9-4 record was just the third nine-win season in school history. Vandy hadn’t won 15 games in a two-year span since 1926-27. It had big wins over Missouri, Auburn, Ole Miss and Tennessee, which were all used to sell the program.

Even though Vanderbilt’s recruiting list is made up primarily of three-star recruits, there are three four-stars, all from out of state, including as far as Colorado. The Commodores had three four-star recruits last year as well; the first time they ever had multiple four-star recruits.

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